Wednesday, August 10, 2011
I've tried lots of different methods of preserving food in the past four years. I've learned about canning (see last post) and dehydrating; about root cellaring and fermenting. Even the more mundane, mainstream methods - such as freezing - have involved a fair amount of learning. From picking out a chest freezer to buying a half steer, from learning how to wrap home butchered meat for the freezer to discovering how to freeze strawberries without turning them into mush, I found that even freezing isn't quite as straightforward as you might think.
I learned that there's really no reason to buy one of those silly five tray electric dehydrators - it only does what your oven or the dashboard of you car on a hot summer day can do, but slower and less efficiently. Drying is a wonderful way to preserve small, whole fruits like berries and tomatoes, but it's a major hassle to make fruit leather or something like that. I haven't tried jerky. I don't actually like jerky very much. Drying therefore has played a minor role in my food preservation arsenal thus far, but I'm glad to know how to do it right, in case I ever get a truly bumper crop of tomatoes, for example. Also, the kids love dried apples and pears to take to school in their lunches, and I have a pear tree that pops out pears like nobody's business. Dried pears - organic ones - cost somewhere in the vicinity of an arm and a leg, so if you have organic pears falling all over your backyard for free, it seems a shame not to dehydrate a few.
Due to an accident of fate (Mold Monster Update), I now have an excellent cold storage area - a closet with an uninsulated, exterior wall. That is where I keep my dry goods for long term storage (buckets of beans and rice, etc) and where, in season, I store winter squash, apples, and roots.
My relationship with wild fermentation is ongoing... I have had some successes and some failures, just like anything, I guess. My favorite type of wild fermentation is sourdough, and I have become, if I do say so myself, a hell of a breadmaker (Fun With Sourdough). Attempts at Kim Chee and sauerkraut have yielded mixed results (The Alchemy of Cabbage (A Little Knowledge Can Be a Good Thing)). And Brewing has been been an absolute, unmitigated failure
(New To Farm Life: Cider Season). I will try brewing again - I just can't let the process of making hard cider defeat me.
Next up in fermentation: kosher dills. I believe I may have mentioned once or twice that we love pickles around here. We do, we do indeed. And I always make a good quantity of pickles - bread and butter pickles, canned dills, pickled asparagus, dilly beans, hot peas, beets - all kinds of vinegar based pickles. I haven't tried crock-cured lacto-fermented kosher dills yet.
But they are, of course, the very best kind of pickle. When I was a child holding on to my mother's hand and peering into the deli case of a real Jewish deli in New York City, it was the pickles that caught my eye and what I would always plead for. They were enormous - great green zeppelins - and so wonderfully sour. A giant pickle was, for me, a better treat than a stick of candy.
Let's hope for the best - I had a terrible time finding enough pickling cukes this year, but finally I scored enough to make it worthwhile, about four pounds. At a garage sale a while ago, I found a marvelous three gallon glass lidded jar, and that's what I used for my pickle crock. A neighbor supplied the grape leaves - they are in there for their high tannin content, to keep the pickles crisp - and the onions and garlic. I'll let you know how they turn out in a week or so!